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BENICASSIM, Spain (AFP) — France’s top cyclist Romain Bardet told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday he believes the stars can align in 2019 for him to become the first home winner of the Tour de France since 1985.
The last French winner of cycling’s greatest stage race was Bernard Hinault more than 30 years ago, and Bardet admitted the jokes about it were wearing a little thin as he prepares to challenge Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas of Team Sky.
“We’re sick of hearing about it but to be honest it’s fair enough,” said the AG2R team leader who came second in the 2016 edition and third in 2017.
Bardet was speaking at a team presentation in Spain where he took time out to explain to AFP why his time might have come.
“I’ll need a certain set of circumstances to win the Tour de France, at any rate, I’ll need to suffer no bad luck,” he said.
“There are a string of things that need to happen that I can’t necessarily control.”
“There is the strength of my adversaries, their collective strength and our collective strength, my own qualities and the need to produce them on the big day, pulling off one great stage, things panning out in your favor,” he added.
“It sounds like a lot, but I believe I can do it because I’ve always been in the top 10,” he pointed out.
“If I can continue my progress and find that grain of genius that allows me to continue to dream further and continue to believe in myself, then everything will gather together for me to go further.”
Bardet’s time has come
Bardet announced himself at the top of the cycling world by finishing sixth on the Tour in 2014 and he has now finished in the top 10 of the overall standings for five straight years.
“I truly love the Tour de France; it was my breakout race, a race in which I’ve always handled myself whatever the situation,” Bardet says with enthusiasm.
“With the high altitude, a high number of mountain stages and even one that runs through the town where I was born and a super tough Alpine finish I simply had to concentrate on the Tour [rather than the Giro].
“The route of this Tour is made for an attack-minded rider who wants to set things alight.”
Some critics say the softly-spoken Bardet lacks a killer instinct and point to his near-misses such as his second-place finish at the world championships in September and his third place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in late April.
Bardet laughs off this idea.
“You need to go close to learn, to have a brush with success before being able to get the big wins.
“That’s how I’ve been playing it and I’m very close and if I keep at it something will open up,” he predicted.
“I can now maintain a high, stable level of performance that will allow me to go full-on in 2019 and achieve an even higher level. If I can step up one more level I’ll be there.”